Copyright
Robert Naylor.

From John O'Groats to Land's End online

. (page 16 of 66)
Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 16 of 66)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


to the village of St. Ninians, with its long, narrow street of
dismal-looking houses, many of them empty and in ruins, and some marked
"To Let"; and, from their dingy appearance, we imagined they were likely
to remain so. The people who lived in these houses were formerly of evil
reputation, as, before railways were constructed so far north, all the
cattle from the Western Isles and the North were driven along the roads
to Falkirk to be sold, and had to pass through St. Ninians, which was so
dreaded by the drovers that they called this long, narrow street "The
Pass of St. Ninians." For, if a sheep happened to go through a doorway
or stray along one of the passages, ever open to receive them, it was
never seen again and nobody knew of its whereabouts except the thieves
themselves. We walked along this miry pass and observed what we thought
might be an old church, which we went to examine, but found it to be
only a tower and a few ruins. The yard was very full of gravestones. A
large building at the bottom of the yard was, we were told, what now did
duty for the original church, which in the time of Prince Charlie was
used as a powder magazine, and was blown up in 1745 by a party of his
Highlanders to prevent its falling into the hands of the advancing
English Army, before which they were retreating.

Shortly afterwards we overtook a gentleman whom we at first thought was
a farmer, but found afterwards to be a surgeon who resided at
Bannockburn, the next village. He was a cheerful and intelligent
companion, and told us that the large flagstaff we could see in the
fields to the left was where Robert Bruce planted his standard at the
famous Battle of Bannockburn, which, he said, was fought at midsummer in
the year 1314. Bruce had been preparing the ground for some time so as
to make it difficult for the English to advance even though they were
much more numerous and better armed than the Scots. As soon as the
armies came in sight of each other on the evening of June 24th, King
Robert Bruce, dressed in armour and with a golden crown on his helmet,
to distinguish him from the rest of his army, mounted on a small pony,
and, with a battle-axe in his hand, went up and down the ranks of his
army to put them in order. Seeing the English horsemen draw near, he
advanced a little in front of his own men to have a nearer view of the
enemy. An English knight, Sir Henry de Bohun, seeing the Scottish king
so poorly mounted, thought he would rise to fame by killing Bruce and so
putting an end to the war at once. So he challenged him to fight by
galloping at him suddenly and furiously, thinking with his long spear
and tall, powerful horse to extinguish Bruce immediately. Waiting until
Bohun came up, and then suddenly turning his pony aside to avoid the
point of his lance, Bruce rose in his stirrups and struck Sir Henry, as
he passed at full speed, such a terrific blow on the head with his
battle-axe that it cut through his helmet and his head at the same time,
so that he died before reaching the ground. The only remark that Bruce
is said to have made was, "I have broken my good battle-axe."

This fearful encounter and the death of their champion was looked upon
as a bad omen by the English, and Sir Walter Scott thus describes it:

The heart had hardly time to think,
The eyelid scarce had time to wink,

* * * * *

High in his stirrups stood the King,
And gave his battle-axe the swing;
Right on De Boune, the whiles he pass'd,
Fell that stern dint - the first - the last! -
Such strength upon the blow was put,
The helmet crash'd like hazel-nut;
The axe shaft, with its brazen clasp,
Was shiver'd to the gauntlet grasp.
Springs from the blow the startled horse,
Drops to the plain the lifeless corse.

The battle began on the following morning, Midsummer Day, and the mighty
host of heavily armed men on large horses moved forward along what they
thought was hard road, only to fall into the concealed pits carefully
prepared beforehand by Bruce and to sink in the bogs over which they had
to pass. It can easily be imagined that those behind pressing forward
would ride over those who had sunk already, only to sink themselves in
turn. Thousands perished in that way, and many a thrown rider, heavily
laden with armour, fell an easy prey to the hardy Scots. The result was
disastrous to the English, and it was said that 30,000 of them were
killed, while the Scots were able afterwards to raid the borders of
England almost to the gates of York.

The surgeon said that in the Royal College of Surgeons in London a rib
of Bruce, the great Scottish king, was included in the curios of the
college, together with a bit of the cancerous growth which killed
Napoleon. It was said that Bruce's rib was injured in a jousting match
in England many years before he died, and that the fracture was made
good by a first-class surgeon of the time. In 1329 Bruce died of leprosy
in his fifty fifth year and the twenty-third of his reign, and was
buried in the Abbey Church of Dunfermline. In clearing the foundation
for the third church on the same site, in 1818, the bones of the hero
were discovered, Sir Walter Scott being present. The breastbone of the
skeleton had been sawn through some 500 years before, as was customary,
in order to allow of the removal of the heart, which was then embalmed,
and given to Bruce's friend, Sir James Douglas, to be carried to
Palestine and buried in Jerusalem.

The surgeon also told us - in order, we supposed, to cheer our drooping
spirits - of another battle fought in the neighbourhood of Bannockburn in
1488, but this time it was the Scottish King James III who came to
grief. He had a fine grey courser given him "that could war all the
horse of Scotland if the king could sit up well." But he was a coward
and could not ride, and when some men came up shouting and throwing
arrows, they frightened the king. Feeling the spurs, the horse went at
"flight speed" through Bannockburn, and a woman carrying water, when she
saw the horse coming, dropped her bucket down on the road and ran for
safety. The horse, frightened by the bucket, jumped over the brook that
turned the mill, and threw the king off at the mill door. The miller and
his wife, who saw the accident, not knowing that the rider was the king,
put him in a nook in the mill and covered him with a cloth. When he came
round, he asked for a priest and told them he was the king. But he had
fallen into the hands of his enemies. The miller's wife clapped her
hands, and ran out crying for a priest for the king. A man called out,
"I am a priest; where is the king?" When he saw the king he told him he
might recover if he had a good leeching, but the king desired him to
give him the Sacrament. The supposed priest said, "That I shall do
quickly," and suiting the action to the word, he stabbed him several
times in the heart. The corpse he took away on his back, no one knew
whither, and the king's soldiers, now leaderless, fled to Stirling and
Linlithgow.

We thanked our friend for his company and bade him farewell, as we
reached Bannockburn village. We observed there, as in most villages near
Stirling, many houses in ruins or built with the ruins of others. We
thought what a blessing it was that the two nations were now united, and
that the days of these cruel wars were gone for ever! At a junction of
roads a finger-post pointed "To the Bannockburn Collieries," and we saw
several coal-pits in the distance with the ruins of an old building near
them, but we did not take the trouble to inspect them.

The shades of night were coming on when, after walking a few miles, we
saw an old man standing at the garden gate of a very small cottage by
the wayside, who told us he was an old sailor and that Liverpool had
been his port, from which he had taken his first voyage in 1814. He
could remember Birkenhead and that side of the River Mersey when there
was only one house, and that a farm from which he used to fetch
buttermilk, and when there was only one dock in Liverpool - the Prince's.
We thought what a contrast the old man would find if he were to visit
that neighbourhood now! He told us of a place near by named Norwood,
where were the remains of an old castle of Prince Charlie's time, with
some arches and underground passages, but it was now too dark to see
them. We proceeded towards Camelon, with the great ironworks of Carron
illuminating the sky to our left, and finally arrived at Falkirk. Here,
in reply to our question, a sergeant of police recommended us to stay
the night at the "Swan Inn," kept by a widow, a native of Inverness,
where we were made very comfortable. After our supper of bread and milk,
we began to take off our boots to prepare for bed, but we were requested
to keep them on as our bedroom was outside! We followed our leader along
the yard at the back of the inn and up a flight of stone steps, at the
top of which we were ushered into a comfortable bedroom containing three
beds, any or all of which, we were informed, were at our service. Having
made our selection and fastened the door, we were soon asleep,
notwithstanding the dreadful stories we had heard that day, and the
great battlefields we had visited - haunted, no doubt, by the ghosts of
legions of our English ancestors who had fallen therein!

(_Distance walked seventeen miles_.)


_Saturday, October 7th._

Falkirk, which stands on a gentle slope on the great Carse of Forth, is
surrounded by the Grampian Hills, the Ochills, and the Campsie Range.
Here King Edward I entirely routed the Scottish Army in the year 1298.
Wallace's great friend was slain in the battle and buried in the
churchyard, where an inscription recorded that "Sir John de Grahame,
equally remarkable for wisdom and courage, and the faithful friend of
Wallace, being slain in the battle by the English, lies buried in this
place."

We left the inn at six o'clock in the morning, the only people visible
being workmen turning out for their day's work. The last great fair of
the season was to be held that day, and we had the previous day seen the
roads filled with cattle making for Falkirk Fair, perhaps one of the
largest fairs in the kingdom. We had been told by the drovers that the
position was well adapted for the purpose, as the ground was very sandy
and therefore not so liable to be trampled into mud by the animals'
feet.

We passed through the village of Laurieston, where Alfred Nobel, the
inventor of dynamite and blasting gelatine, lived, and saw a plough at
work turning up potatoes, a crowd of women and boys following it and
gathering up the potatoes in aprons and then emptying them into a long
row of baskets which extended from one end of the field to the other. A
horse and cart followed, and the man in charge emptied the contents of
the baskets into the cart. We questioned the driver of the plough, who
assured us that no potatoes were left in the land, but that all were
turned up and gathered, and that it was a much better way than turning
them out by hand with a fork, as was usual in England.

[Illustration: LINLITHGOW PALACE.]

[Illustration: ANCIENT KEY OF LINLITHGOW PALACE.]

About two miles farther on we passed the romantic village of Polmont,
and on through a fine stretch of country until we reached another
fair-sized village called Linlithgow Bridge. We were then about a mile
and a half from the old town of Linlithgow; here the River Avon
separates the counties of Stirlingshire and Linlithgowshire. The old
bridge from which the place takes its name is said to have been built by
Edward I of England. In 1526 the Battle of Linlithgow Bridge was fought
at this spot; it was one of those faction fights between two contending
armies for predominance which were so prevalent in Scotland at the time,
the real object, however, being to rescue King James V from the
domination of the Earl of Angus. The opposing fronts under Angus and
Lennox extended on both sides of the Avon. The Earl of Lennox was slain
by Sir James Hamilton after quarter had been granted to the former. His
sword was afterwards found, and may still be seen in the small museum at
Linlithgow. In this village Stephen Mitchell, tobacco and snuff
manufacturer, carried on business and had an old snuff mill here; he was
the first founder in Great Britain of a Free Library. Burns the Scottish
poet stayed a night here on August 25th, 1787.

We arrived at the royal and ancient burgh of Linlithgow at about nine
o'clock. The town, as Burns says, "carries the appearance of rude,
decayed, idle grandeur"; it is, however, very pleasantly situated, with
rich, fertile surroundings. There is a fine old royal palace here within
which, on December 7th, 1542, the unfortunate Mary Queen of Scots was
born, whose beauty and magnificence have imbued her history with so deep
and melancholy an interest. Sir Walter Scott in "Marmion" sings the
praises of this palace as follows: -

Of all the palaces so fair,
Built for the royal dwelling.
In Scotland, far beyond compare
Linlithgow is excelling.

We fully endorsed the great Sir Walter's opinion, for it certainly was a
magnificent structure and occupied a grand situation, with a large lake
in front covering perhaps a hundred acres. We were now, however, getting
ravenously hungry, so we adjourned to the hotel for breakfast, which was
quickly served and almost as quickly eaten. The palace was not open
until ten o'clock, so we had to be content with a view of the exterior,
nor could we visit the fine old church, for we wanted to reach
Edinburgh, where we had decided to stay the week-end in order to see
some of the sights of the historic capital.

[Illustration: MONUMENT EXECUTED BY A ONE-ARMED MAN.]

A halo of deepest interest surrounded the history of Linlithgow, whose
every stone spoke volumes of the storied past. The traditions of the
place go far back into the dim shadowy regions where historic fact
merges into myth and legend. Solid ground is only reached about the
twelfth century. The English had possession of the palace in 1313, and
the way it was taken from them was probably unique in the history of
such places. The garrison was supplied with hay for the horses by a
local farmer named Binnock, who determined to strike a blow for the
freedom of his country. A new supply of hay had been ordered, and he
contrived to conceal eight men, well armed, under it. The team was
driven by a sturdy waggoner, who had a sharp axe concealed in his
clothing, while Binnock himself walked alongside. The porter, on seeing
their approach, lowered the drawbridge and raised the portcullis to
admit of the passage of the hay within the castle walls. Just as they
reached the centre of the gateway the driver drew his axe and cut off
the tackle that attached the oxen to the waggon, at the same time
striking the warder dead and shouting a preconcerted signal - "Call all!
Call all!" "The armed men jumped from amongst the hay, and a strong
party of Scots, who by arrangement were in ambush outside, rushed in and
attacked the astonished garrison, who were unprepared for the
onslaught - the load of hay being so placed that the gate could not be
closed nor the bridge raised - and so the Scots made themselves masters
of the palace."

[Illustration: WINDOW IN SOUTH CHANCEL OF ST. MICHAEL'S CHURCH, WHERE
JAMES IV SAW THE VISION BEFORE THE BATTLE OF FLODDEN.]

The last event of any historical interest or importance connected with
this palace was the visit paid to it by Prince Charles Stewart in 1745;
it was destroyed in the following year.

The beautiful old Gothic church of St. Michael is situated close to the
palace. Perhaps no tradition connected with this church is more
interesting than the vision which is said to have appeared to James IV
while praying within St. Catherine's Aisle immediately before the Battle
of Flodden. According to Lindsay of Pitscottie, on whose authority the
tale rests, the King, being "in a very sad and dolorous mood, was making
his devotions to God to send him good chance and fortune in his voyage"
when a man "clad in ane blue gown" appeared to him, and with little
ceremony declared to the King that he had been sent to desire him "nocht
to pass whither he purposed," for if he did, things "would not fare well
with him or any who went with him." How little this warning was heeded
by the King is known to all readers of Scottish history. The "ghost,"
if it may be called so, was in all likelihood an attempt to frighten the
King, and it is certain that the tale would never have gained the weird
interest it possesses if Flodden Field had not proved so disastrous. It
has been helped to immortality by Sir Walter Scott, who in "Marmion" has
invested Pitscottie's antique prose with the charm of imperishable
poetry.

[Illustration: THE OLD CROSS WELL.]

One characteristic of the towns or villages in Scotland through which we
passed was their fine drinking-fountains, and we had admired a very fine
one at Falkirk that morning; but Linlithgow's fountain surpassed it - it
was indeed the finest we had seen, and a common saying occurred to us:

Glasgow for bells,
Linlithgow for wells.

Linlithgow has long been celebrated for its wells, some of them of
ancient date and closely associated with the history of the town. We
came to an old pump-well with the date 1720, and the words "Saint
Michael is kinde to straingers." As we considered ourselves to be
included in that category, we had a drink of the water.

[Illustration: THE TOWN HERALD, LINLITHGOW (A survival of the past)]

At the end of the village or town we passed the union workhouse, where
the paupers were busy digging up potatoes in the garden, and a short
distance farther on we passed a number of boys with an elderly man in
charge of them, who informed us they came from the "institute," meaning
the workhouse we had just seen, and that he took them out for a walk
once every week. Presently we met a shepherd who was employed by an
English farmer in the neighbourhood, and he told us that the man we had
met in charge of the boys was an old pensioner who had served fifty-two
years in the army, but as soon as he got his pension money he spent it,
as he couldn't keep it, the colour of his nose showing the direction in
which it went. It struck us the shepherd seemed inclined that way
himself, as he said if he had met us nearer a public-house he would have
"treated us to a good glass." We thought what a pity it was that men had
not a better eye to their own future interests than to spend all their
money "for that which is not bread, and their labour for that which
satisfieth not," and how many there were who would ultimately become
burdens to society who might have secured a comfortable competency for
old age by wisely investing their surplus earnings instead of allowing
them to flow down that awful channel of waste!

[Illustration: ST. MICHAEL'S WELL.]

We walked through a fine agricultural district - for we were now in
Midlothian - adorned with great family mansions surrounded by well-kept
grounds, and arrived in sight of Edinburgh at 1.30, and by two o'clock
we were opposite a large building which we were told was Donaldson's
Hospital, founded in 1842, and on which about £100,000 had been spent.

Our first business on reaching Edinburgh was to find suitable lodgings
until Monday morning, and we decided to stay at Fogg's Temperance Hotel
in the city. We had then to decide whether we should visit Edinburgh
Castle or Holyrood Palace that day - both being open to visitors at the
same hour in the afternoon, but as they were some distance apart we
could not explore both; we decided in favour of the palace, where we
were conducted through the picture gallery and the many apartments
connected with Mary Queen of Scots and her husband Lord Darnley.

The picture-gallery contained the reputed portraits of all the Kings of
Scotland from Fergus I, 330 B.C., down to the end of the Stuart dynasty;
and my brother, who claimed to have a "painter's eye," as he had learned
something of that art when at school, discovered a great similarity
between the portraits of the early kings and those that followed them
centuries later. Although I explained that it was only an illustration
of history repeating itself, and reminded him of the adage, "Like
father, like son," he was not altogether satisfied. We found afterwards,
indeed, that the majority of the portraits had been painted by a Flemish
artist, one John de Witt, who in the year 1684 made a contract, which
was still in existence, whereby he bound himself to paint no portraits
within two years, he supplying the canvas and colours, and the
Government paying him £120 per year and supplying him with the
"originalls" from which he was to copy. We wondered what had become of
these "originalls," especially that of Fergus, 330 B.C., but as no
information was forthcoming we agreed to consider them as lost in the
mists of antiquity.

[Illustration: HOLYROOD PALACE.]

There was much old tapestry on the walls of the various rooms we
inspected in the palace, and although it was now faded we could see that
it must have looked very beautiful in its original state. The tapestry
in one room was almost wholly devoted to scenes in which
heavenly-looking little boys figured as playing in lovely gardens amidst
beautiful scenery. One of these scenes showed a lake in the background
with a castle standing at one end of it. In the lake were two small
islands covered with trees which were reflected in the still waters,
while in the front was a large orange tree, growing in a lovely garden,
up which some of the little boys had climbed, one of whom was throwing
oranges to a companion on the ground below; while two others were
enjoying a game of leapfrog, one jumping over the other's back. Three
other boys were engaged in the fascinating game of blowing bubbles - one
making the lather, another blowing the bubbles, while a third was trying
to catch them. There were also three more boys - one of them apparently
pretending to be a witch, as he was riding on a broomstick, while
another was giving a companion a donkey-ride upon his back. All had the
appearance of little cupids or angels and looked so lifelike and happy
that we almost wished we were young again and could join them in their
play!

The rooms more closely connected with the unfortunate Mary Queen of
Scots were of course the most interesting to visitors; and in her
audience-room, where she had such distressing interviews with John Knox,
the famous Presbyterian divine and reformer, we saw the bed that was
used by King Charles I when he resided at Holyrood, and afterwards
occupied on one occasion, in September 1745, by his descendant Prince
Charlie, and again after the battle of Culloden by the Duke of
Cumberland.

[Illustration: WEST DOORWAY, CHAPEL ROYAL.]

We passed on to Queen Mary's bedroom, in which we were greatly
interested, and in spite of its decayed appearance we could see it had
been a magnificent apartment. Its walls were adorned with emblems and
initials of former Scottish royalties, and an old tapestry representing
the mythological story of the fall of Photon, who, according to the
Greeks, lost his life in rashly attempting to drive the chariot of his
father the God of the Sun. Here we saw Queen Mary's bed, which must have
looked superb in its hangings of crimson damask, trimmed with green silk
fringes and tassels, when these were new, but now in their decay they
seemed to remind us of their former magnificence and of their
unfortunate owner, to whom the oft-quoted words

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown

so aptly applied. We wondered how many times her weary head had passed
its restless nights there, and in the many castles in which she had been
placed during her long imprisonment of nineteen years. Half hidden by
the tapestry there was a small door opening upon a secret stair, and it
was by this that Darnley and his infamous associates ascended when they
went to murder the Queen's unfortunate Italian secretary, Rizzio, in the
Queen's supping-room, which we now visited. There we had to listen to
the recital of this horrible crime: how the Queen had been forcibly
restrained by Darnley, her table overthrown and the viands scattered,
while the blood-thirsty conspirators crowded into the room; how Rizzio
rushed behind the Queen for protection, until one of the assassins
snatched Darnley's dagger from its sheath, and stabbed Rizzio, leaving
the dagger sticking in his body, while the others dragged him furiously
from the room, stabbing him as he went, shrieking for mercy, until he



Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 16 of 66)